Thursday, February 13, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Reds (1981) ***½

PG, 195 min.
Director: Warren Beatty
Writers: Warren Beatty, Trevor Griffiths
Starring: Warren Beatty, Diane Keaton, Edward Herrmann, Jerzy Kosinksi, Jack Nicholson, Paul Sorvino, Maureen Stapleton, Nicolas Coster, M. Emmett Walsh, Ian Wolfe, Max Wright, George Plimpton, Gene Hackman, William Daniels, Shane Rimmer, Jerry Hardin, Christopher Malcolm, R.G. Armstrong, Josef Sommer

This is the fourth time I’ve invested my time into this epic romance, and every time I watch it, it grows on me a little more. “Reds” explores the lives and romance of journalists John Reed and Louise Bryant against the backdrop of the Bolshevik Revolution. It is a sprawling film that received mixed critical praise at the time it was originally released despite being nominated for 12 Oscars, but has gained a little more respect since then as one of director/writer/actor Warren Beatty’s more powerful films.

It is a long and slow paced film. I believe this is where much of the initial critical disappointment came from. Perhaps people were expecting a more action-oriented film with revolutionary violence, but it’s much more about these two people and how they were drawn together. It’s about how they loved each other, which was just as untraditional as their socialistic views at the time. It also doesn’t eschew the complexities of how Americans can promote socialistic values while still remaining true to their American freedoms. This is reflected in how their relationship tries to follow a more traditional standard. However, they only thrive as lovers when pursuing less traditional American values.

As such a character driven drama and romance, the performances are of the utmost importance to the success of the picture. It was the last film before “Silver Linings Playbook”, more than three decades later, to receive nominations in each of the four acting categories for the Academy Awards. I find Diane Keaton’s performance as Bryant the most intriguing. Keaton so often plays a goofball that it’s nice to go back and see some of the early dramas that were as much a part of her repertoire in her early career as the comedies. She’s really a brilliant dramatic actor and drops all her flightiness for roles like this one and her role in “The Godfather” films. Jack Nicholson is also brilliant in his Oscar nominated supporting role as playwright Eugene O’Neill.

‘Reds” gets better with age because it’s about experience. It takes experience to understand the strange workings of Reed and Bryant’s love for each other. It also takes experience to understand the politics of the movie, which is not what it’s about, but plays a major role in how these two people function, both in history and romantically. The first time I saw it, I wanted my three hours back. Now, I could easily see revisiting the movie every decade or so.

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